Gilgun was born in Chorley, Lancashire, to mother Judith and father Andrew. He has two younger sisters: Jennie and Rosie. He attended Rivington VA Primary School and Southlands High School. He also trained at the Laine Johnson Theatre School and the Oldham Theatre Workshop. He has both dyslexia and ADHD, which he describes as the “biggest pain of [his] life” and in interviews has openly discussed depression and anxiety. He started drama workshops at the age of eight, following advice from an educational psychologist, and was described as having “exceptional talent”. When he was 10, he got his first TV acting role in Coronation Street. He stayed until he was 13. Gilgun studied art at Runshaw College. He started a degree in fashion design, but found it too academic. He was a plasterer, until returning to acting full-time with Emmerdale. He has developed a close relationship with his co-stars from the This Is England stories, referring to them in interviews as “the gang”.
TV and Stage Work
As a child actor, Gilgun played little tearaway Jamie Armstrong in Coronation Street between 1994 and 1997. He left the soap when the actress playing his on-screen mother left. Gilgun revisited the set in an ITV special The Kids from Coronation Street in 2004.
Gilgun took a break in his teens, acting part-time in local and national stage productions including the Manchester-based Hanky Park the Musical at the Lowry. He played Charlie Millwall in a tour of the stage play Borstal Boy, which ended at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Critics liked the production. He found the break difficult, telling The Guardian in December 2011 that “[I] went off the fucking rails” and became confused about what to do with his life. He ended up working as a plasterer.
He returned to acting full-time in 2006, when he won the roles of both Woody in This Is England (see Film Work below) and trouble-prone Eli Dingle in Emmerdale. Gilgun announced he would quit Emmerdale on 10 November 2009, feeling the time was right to move on. His last appearance was on 30 April 2010. An Emmerdale representative said the programme had not ruled out a future return for the character. Gilgun later indicated he currently had no such plans. Gilgun reprised the character of Woody for two Channel 4 TV spin-off series of This Is England, called This Is England ’86. and This is England ’88 which aired in September 2010 and December 2011 respectively.
On 9 May 2011 it was announced that Gilgun had been cast as newcomer Rudy in the third series of Misfits which began to air in late October 2011. He replaced the character of Nathan following the departure of Robert Sheehan. An online short called Vegas Baby covered Nathan’s exit and Rudy’s arrival. It was available on the E4 website from 15 September. Gilgun said that replacing Sheehan had “been frightening… You’d think that it’d be a total ballache, what with being new and stuff and Rob doing such a good job”. The character Rudy can manifest a clone of himself that roughly represents his conscience. He appears in the first episode of the third series.
He has also appeared in a Dingle-centred episode of Ghosthunting with… hosted by Yvette Fielding in 2007 and in 1998, when he was 14 years old, he presented a feature on Wish You Were Here…? where he visited Phantasialand, Germany’s largest theme park.